The planned plebiscite has nothing to do with direct democracy. On the contrary, it is a populist move that suppresses democracy, Züleyxa Izmailova and Kaspar Kurve write.
Let us rewind a few years. It is October 9, 2014 and the third and final reading of the Registered Partnership Act has been conducted successfully by the Riigikogu. The square in front of the parliament building is covered in flowers, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves promulgates the law a few hours later, saying that "same-sex couples have the right to lead a family life and not to be met with disdain and unequal treatment in a society that honors human rights."
It seems this matter that has been splitting society for years has finally been put to bed and Estonia has taken a meaningful step toward a more open and emphatic society sporting a greater level of solidarity.
However, that step was never finished. Implementing provisions that are necessary for the Registered Partnership Act to function have still not been passed. What is paradoxical is that the ball was in the court of the Reform Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) that have always styled themselves as liberal and respectful of personal freedoms.
Whether the reason was fear to lose voters or something else – inability to pass the implementing provisions left a stain not only on the reputation of the two parties but the Estonian state as a whole.
It is the year 2020 now. The current government is not even discussing the implementing provisions. Instead, it is organizing a legally non-binding plebiscite on the concept of marriage. What it is supposed to solve is anyone's guess.
It remains a mystery why giving a historically wronged and persecuted group of people equal rights without taking anything away from anyone else instills such fear in so many people.
However, notable developments have happened in society in the meantime. A few weeks ago, the Estonian Greens became the first party in Estonia to support allowing two adults to marry irrespective of their gender as its official position. Such parties number two by now (Estonia 200 – ed.). Hundreds of people gathered in Tallinn's Freedom Square to show their support for marriage equality a few days ago (the article was published in Estonian on October 23 – ed.).
The implementing provisions of the Registered Partnership Act need to be passed. Supporting marriage equality is virtually the only path for any party that identifies as liberal and respectful of personal freedoms in Estonian political climate. It is to be hoped that the Reform Party and SDE can put political-technological games aside for a moment and rediscover liberal values.
The planned plebiscite has nothing to do with direct democracy. On the contrary, it is a populist move that suppresses democracy. Direct democratic measures are not meant to give the majority the right to decide the fate of minorities. But okay, we cannot change the government's shameful decision, while we can do something else as parties and members of society and send a clear signal in terms of the values Estonia should really represent.
It is high time to stop persecuting our own people and take the Family Act into harmony with the Estonian Constitution that states we are all equal in the eyes of the law.
A small country does not have to stand for a small-minded people. It is especially important for people in a small country to take care of one another. Major global challenges caused by the climate crisis cannot be solved by fighting one's own people and inciting in-house conflict.
Editor: Marcus Turovski